URI Ph.D. candidate returns from Korea with new insights about harmful algal blooms

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NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – September 1, 2011 – Elizabeth Harvey has just returned from a seven-week fellowship to Korea to gain insight into how harmful algal blooms form, and the University of Rhode Island doctoral candidate is anxious to apply what she learned to her studies of algal blooms in local waters.

The Yarmouth, Maine, native said that when some toxic algae species quickly multiply, they can have a detrimental effect on the marine environment and cripple the aquaculture industry.

“We want to get a better understanding of how these harmful algal blooms form so we can predict the formation of the blooms in order to inform managers of aquaculture facilities,” Harvey said.

Her trip to Korea was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its National Needs Fellowship Program, which enabled Harvey to work in the lab of Prof. Hae Jin Jeong, a renowned phytoplankton ecologist at Seoul National University.

“I wanted to combine the strength of our lab here at the Graduate School of Oceanography with the strength of his lab,” explained Harvey, who works in collaboration with URI Assistant Professor Susanne Menden-Deuer. “At GSO, we visualize the interactions between single-celled organisms, whereas there I was able to observe some of their interesting cultures and learn some taxonomy techniques.”

Every day during her stay in Korea, Harvey set up her filming apparatus to shoot video of the interactions between the single-celled organisms that feed on the phytoplankton that form the algae blooms.

“These microzooplankton grazers make their living by eating phytoplankton,” said Harvey. “They consume 60 to 70 percent of the phytoplankton that is grown every day, so they likely play a big role in controlling the formation of the bloom. In Korea, one of the grazers I studied only consumes one particular species of toxic phytoplankton.”

In addition to gaining new scientific understanding, Harvey said she hopes that her trip to Korea will lead to further collaborations in the future.

“Science is a collaborative process, and this was a great opportunity to work with people on the other side of the world and learn their approach to answering similar questions,” she said. “To be able to meet and interact with a world renowned scientist, and also a cohort of graduate students who are at the same level as me in the process, can only help my career. Science is international, so it was a great way to start that experience.

“Hopefully it will lead to further collaborations in the future,” she added.